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Irregular work hours when young may harm health later in life

Photo: Valentina Stankovic/Getty Images

New York — Young adults who work irregular shifts may be at elevated risk of developing sleep problems and physical and mental health issues decades later, results of a recent study suggest.

Using more than 30 years of data from over 7,300 participants in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth-1979, a researcher at New York University examined how employment patterns starting at age 22 might be associated with sleep hours and quality, physical and mental functions, and the likelihood of reporting poor health and depressive symptoms at age 50.

The result: Compared with the participants working a 9 a.m.-5 p.m. schedule, those with night shifts or irregular hours in their 20s slept less and worse. When those workers reached age 50, they were also more likely to report feelings of depression.

Volatile work schedules, defined as working evening/night hours or daily hours that change constantly, was linked to poor health in middle age. Black participants were more likely to have this type of schedule.

“Work that is supposed to bring resources to help us sustain a decent life has now become a vulnerability to a healthy life due to the increasing precarity in our work arrangements,” study author Wen-Jui Han said in a press release.

The study was published online in the journal PLOS One.

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